Saturday, December 31, 2016

Speaker: Bob Jenkins

Bob Jenkins' Daughters of the Kali Yuga Website
Bob Jenkins: Novelist and nationally prominent professional storyteller who twice headlined the National Storytelling Festival and performed numerous times at the Sierra Storytelling Festival in Nevada City.

Review Snippet: "Science fiction fans are in for a real treat; but should be prepared: Azriel Dancer is like no other read, and it avoids typical approaches and predictable paths with a satisfying vengeance.”  Diane Donovan, Senior reviewer, The Midwest Book Review

Conference Workshop: The Magic of Feedback that “Lifts” Your Work (Fiction), Session  2, 1:10 - 2:10

Lunchtime Author Round table, 12:00 - 1:00

Workshop Description:  

Critique can be a gift that lifts your work to a higher level. It can also be devastating when it comes from someone who doesn’t know how to give it. In this session, you will learn the 5 core questions that make critique a positive and critically important part of your writer’s journey. Knowing these questions will help you sort out good feedback from bad in the future.

To help you actually experience good feedback, Dr. Bob Jenkins (who actually has a PhD in criticism) generously offers you a rare opportunity. You are invited to submit a sample of your writing. Dr. Bob will read a sampling of the submissions (he’s also a professional storyteller and hearing your work read by a professional can be an incredible experience). Each of the samples read in the workshop will receive professional critique. Even if your submission is not chosen for reading in the workshop, you will receive a brief written review of your work.


Send Dr. Bob a sample of your work:
- Email no more than 1,000 DOUBLE SPACED words to no later than January 15, 2017.
- Include your name, title and word count of the entire piece.


ALSO, as an added bonus ... for all the pieces read in class, Dr. Bob will provide a written review that you can use on your website or other marketing pieces.
Dr. Bob is the author and featured teller on two albums of stories for adults, and the author of short stories, plays, essays, blogs, and scholarly articles.  His science fiction novel, Azriel Dancer, the first book in a quartet called Daughters of the Kali Yuga, is available for purchase in print and eBook on Amazon.  The second book in the quartet, Janabai Shepherd, is due Spring, 2017.  Books three and four, Leatherfoot and Wazi Tekwa Ga’i, will be available in 2018 and 2019.

Bob Jenkins grew up as a "service kid," moving from post to post, following his fighter pilot father from Florida to Hawaii, acquiring that worldly-wise attitude common to his tribe (marine brats). Running away from home at sixteen, he wound his way along the coasts of Florida, up through Georgia, and the Carolina, a teenage gentleman of the highway.

In the four years that followed, he saw service with the Marines, surviving consecutive combat tours in Viet Nam where he spent two years playing guitar, painting, writing poetry, and dodging rockets. Returning to civilian life, he earned a PhD in dramatic criticism, squeezing two seasons of summer stock in between terms, and finagled a year of acting and directing in New York at the Harry Chapin Theatre.

In 1975, Jenkins secured a professorship at San Jose State University, where he worked his way up through the ranks to become Chairman of the Department of Television, Film, Radio, and Drama.  During his tour of academic duty, he freelanced as an actor, director, and playwright.

He was twice featured as a headliner at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro, Tennessee, where he performed in circus tents for thousands of story lovers.

Bob has published stories, albums (Dangerous Nights and The Man Who Wanted Incredible Things), and magazine and journal articles about storytelling and theatre.  His children's plays, (Pinocchio, The Ghost Hour, and Puppets!) have been professionally produced at the Children's Theatre Workshop and the Saratoga Chamber Theatre and toured throughout California by the Gallivanting Inspiration Group.

The four volumes of Daughters of the Kali Yuga are his first novels.

Jenkins lives in south Nevada County with his wife of thirty-seven years, Christine, and their pooch, Wazi. description:

Twenty-five year-old Azriel doesn’t know much of the world beyond Shiva Puri, the village where she and two hundred other farmers live in the foothills of California. Dreams of becoming a professional dancer have been dashed by injury, and it seems her marriage to Daniel, the village manager, is the crowning achievement of her young life. Azriel’s rural existence is pleasant, if not exhilarating, and so the world goes on.

Until it doesn’t.

The sages of ancient India tell of a terrifying being that will come forth from the underworld to end the reign of humankind. Shhhh. It’s just folklore, a superstition, a tale to frighten children.

Until it isn’t.

When the apocalypse comes, waves of unearthly pulsations crush everything in their path and fast-moving firestorms sweep North America. The survivors of Shiva Puri need a leader if they’re to make it through the devastation. Factions splinter and tensions escalate, but no one is aware of the real danger lurking. The demon Kali, Lord of Rakshasa, Tiger of Lanka, circles the last remnants of humanity.

People disappear, and Azriel realizes she must perform her most delicate dance, defeating the vilest creature humankind has ever known, and preserving her humanity in the process.
Azriel Dancer is the first of four novels in the Daughters of the Apocalypse quartet, in which author Bob Jenkins takes the reader from the first seconds of a mysterious global catastrophe, to the birth of a new civilization fifty years later.

Highlighted Review:

“Azriel Dancer is the kind of sci-fi read that rarely crosses a reviewer’s desk . . . moves quickly without the artificial pace that too often imbibes sci-fi adventure stories with a sense of desperation and haste . . . atmospheric and steeped in delightful descriptions that are hauntingly evocative and original . . . nothing staid or predictable about its characters or story line; but most of all, events are narrated with a gripping “you are there” immediacy that makes for a story nearly impossible to put down or predict. Science fiction fans are in for a real treat; but should be prepared: Azriel Dancer is like no other read, and it avoids typical approaches and predictable paths with a satisfying vengeance.”  Diane Donovan, Senior reviewer, The Midwest Book Review

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

YubaLit: UNITED WE STAND: Writers Respond to Trump

Rachel Howard
Rachel Howard, speaker at the Sierra Writers Conference, is also the Founder of YubaLit, a Grass Valley/Nevada City program which features local and area writers every other month. It is a rich feature of our local literary scene. In January, Rachel continues her thought-provoking offering with the voices of writers discussing the divisive times we find ourselves in.

An opinion piece in The Union offers the following from Rachel:

I founded Yuba Lit in September of 2015, drawing on my contacts within the San Francisco literary community to book acclaimed novelists and poets, presenting them alongside the gifted and esteemed writers of our area, including Dayton Literary Peace Prize-winning novelist Josh Weil, and short story master Louis B. Jones.

In eight Yuba Lit evenings since, we’ve heard dozens of moving and commanding readings. But many of my favorite Yuba Lit moments happen not when the esteemed readers are sharing their work on the stage, but when we — the audience members, the flash readers, the literature-loving community — get to know each other during intermission and after the show.

And that has never been more true than in our increasingly divisive times. At the close of November’s Yuba Lit, held a week and two days after the election, an audience member approached to say she was uncomfortable with the plans I’d announced for January: A slate of writers whose readings will uphold values we’ll stand for during the Trump presidency. These values include diversity, freedom of religion, care for the environment, gender equality, and compassion for all.
This audience member worried that such a program would be divisive, and would exclude Trump supporters. She appreciated Yuba Lit and worried that the series should remain apolitical.
I hope anyone who loves literature and supports diversity, freedom of religion, care for the environment, gender equality, and compassion for all will come.
As I shared with this audience member, I thought long and hard on her concerns before announcing this program. I’ve continued to think on her concerns since. A number of eternally challenging questions come to mind, ranging from the role of art and literature in society, to where the line should be drawn between reconciliation and appeasement. One thing to me is clear: UNITED WE STAND: Writers Respond to Trump” is in spirit an inclusive event, and its values transcend politics. I hope anyone who loves literature and supports diversity, freedom of religion, care for the environment, gender equality, and compassion for all will come.

I could not be more thrilled about our lineup. At 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 20, we’ll hear from Sacramento poet Indigo Moor, Nevada City novelist Sands Hall, environmental writer Jordan Fisher Smith, recently-relocated Grass Valley poet Angela Sells and the owner of our venue, The Open Book, Will Dane.

We’ll also hold a special audience flash reading. Audience members who’d like to read will receive raffle tickets. Ten ticket holders will be drawn to read their responses to the prompt, “After the Election.”

Of the $10 cover charge collected at the door, 50 percent will benefit the Southern Poverty Law Center.

I hope this evening of thoughtful and thought-provoking readings will serve a dual purpose, helping us to connect and organize in defense of these values, and providing a venue for open-hearted dialogue. As we all know, there is much of staggering consequence demanding response. Already Trump has appointed the head of a White Nationalist website as his chief White House advisor. Already he has named a climate change denier and ally of the fossil fuel industry the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Already groups attacking people of color and Muslims have been emboldened by Trump’s rhetoric — even in our backyard, as evidenced by the letter sent to the Islamic Center of Davis threatening, “He is going to do to you what Hitler did to the Jews.”
Since November’s Yuba Lit, I have thought often about another conversation from that evening. During intermission, a regular attendee gave me a hug, then said she had voted for Trump. We had a difficult, delicate conversation about Trump’s proposal for the government to register Muslims. This audience member supported the proposal; I did not.

At the end of our heated exchange, we were no closer to agreement. But the audience member stayed.
Was that conversation a first step towards possible understanding, or futile for us both? I don’t know. But I am grateful to her for staying. At one point she confessed to me that she had moved from the Bay Area to Nevada County to get away from “certain kinds of people” — people, I deduce, at least in some way like me. I don’t believe we really can “get away from each other.” Nor would I want that. So I am glad that Yuba Lit brought us together.

Whatever our discussions may bring, I have faith in the act of peacefully gathering. I believe that literary writers serve a unique role in society, one dedicated to truth and understanding. And I look forward to what these fine writers will share at the next Yuba Lit.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Speaker: Frank DeCourten

Frank DeCourten Link
Frank DeCourten: Professor, geologist, author of books, articles, and technical publications

Workshop Title: Telling Nature's Story: transforming scientific research into literature, Session 3, 2:30 - 3:30

Lunchtime Author Round table, 12:00 - 1:00

Workshop Description: This session will explore the distinctions between peer-reviewed technical writing and natural history literature using examples from a broad array of authors.  We will consider all aspects of the creative process in both types of writing, including research methods, conceptual formatting, draft preparation, review process, editing, publishing, and distribution.  Examples will be drawn primary from literature that explores the origin and interpretation of natural landscapes of the American West.

Frank L. DeCourten has been Professor of Earth Science at Sierra College in Rocklin, California since 1993.

DeCourten has received an impressive number of awards for teaching, research, and citizenship. His research has resulted in 19 technical publications in geology and paleontology, four books (Earth Essays, Shadows of Time, Dinosaurs of Utah 2nd edition, and The Broken Land) and he has produced 3 educational videos. In addition, Frank wrote Terra Sierra, a quarterly natural history column that appeared in the Sierra Sun newspaper in the Tahoe-Truckee region and is currently being compiled into book form. His latest writing project is Geology of Northern California, a textbook supplement that has been utilized in more than a dozen colleges and universities across northern California. An addition module is currently being produced for southern California. description:

"The desert may seem timeless from within the Yellow Circle tonight, but the permanence of the surrounding landscape is only an illusion. Even the land is alive here, constantly changing and evolving as do all living things. Nothing here is 'finished.' Everything around us—the plants, the animals, the rocks, and the terrain itself—is in the process of becoming something else. And, of course, so are we. None of us around the campfire tonight are the same people we were yesterday, or will be tomorrow."—from the book

The Broken Land surveys the geological phenomena of the magnificent Great Basin landscape of western Utah, Nevada, eastern California, and adjacent regions. Each chapter focuses on a locality or area that provides insight into the deep history of one of North America's most remote regions—one of its continental margins. It is the only book available covering the geology of the entire Great Basin. Written for anyone with a casual to serious interest in natural history, The Broken Land conveys Frank DeCourten's awe at the story written in the rock of the basin.

Highlighted Review:

on May 8, 2010
Format: Paperback|Verified Purchase

If you really want to understand the geologic history of the Great Basin, this is the book. The author, Frank L. DeCourten, is to be thanked for writing such a comprehensive yet readable book. I am planning to teach a physical geology course next year at my local community college which is on the edge of the Great Basin. I have been reading everything I can get my hands on to bring me up to date on the geology of Great Basin to enable me to make the course more relevant and to help me lead field trips. Mr. DeCourten's book is just the ticket. I read it once from cover to cover and now am reading parts of it again. 
This book is not just for teachers but also for students and those with a passion for earth science and the Great Basin. Thanks so much Mr. DeCourten. I know he won't get rich off this book, but his effort is so appreciated. It brings John Mcphee's Basin and Range up to date and fills in the details.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Speaker: Jordan Fisher Smith

Jordan Fisher Smith Website
Jordan Fisher Smith: Nonfiction author of Nature Noir and Engineering Eden,  freelancer for, New Yorker, and Discover, narrator of the Oscar-shortlisted film “Under Our Skin.”

Review Snippet: “Intensely reported, rousingly readable, and ambitiously envisioned…A thrilling read. Like the best visions for parks, it combines the human and the animal, the managed and natural, the controlled and the wild.” —Wall Street Journal

Conference Workshop: Finding the Power in your Nonfiction Story, Session 1, 10:50 - 11:50

Lunchtime Author Round table, 12:00 - 1:00

Closing Panel Discussion, 3:55 - 4:45

Jordan has also generously agreed to emcee the conference!

Workshop Description:  Nonfiction is inconvenient.  Things that really happened often have no exact beginning and no exact end—they are one with the larger flow of history.  There are things that are hard to know, and the writer is tempted to make them up to render the story interesting.  Writers get lost in the arcane details of research like wilderness explorers; they and their projects are reported missing and never come back. To win at this game a writer needs to discern where the power is in the story.  She needs to make choices of what to put in and what to leave out.  Jordan will discuss how to get the wild mess of a story under control, and how to re-wild the tame one.

Jordan Fisher Smith spent 21 years as a park and wilderness ranger in California, Wyoming, Idaho, and Alaska. He is the author of Nature Noir, which was a Wall Street Journal summer reading selection, San Francisco Chronicle Best Books of 2005 pick, and an Audubon Magazine Editor’s Choice; and a new narrative nonfiction book Engineering Eden: The True Story of a Violent Death, a Trial, and the Fight Over Controlling Nature published in hardcover by Crown and an audiobook from Blackstone in 2016. 

His magazine work has appeared in, Men’s Journal, Aeon, Discover, and others, and been nominated for awards from the American Society of Magazine Editors and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Jordan is a principal cast member and narrator of the film “Under Our Skin,” which was shortlisted for the 2010 Oscar for Best Documentary Feature and appears in a 2014 sequel “Under Our Skin 2: Emergence.” He lives in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. description:

The fascinating story of a trial that opened a window onto the century-long battle to control nature in the national parks. 

When twenty-five-year-old Harry Walker was killed by a bear in Yellowstone Park in 1972, the civil trial prompted by his death became a proxy for bigger questions about American wilderness management that had been boiling for a century. At immediate issue was whether the Park Service should have done more to keep bears away from humans, but what was revealed as the trial unfolded was just how fruitless our efforts to regulate nature in the parks had always been. The proceedings drew to the witness stand some of the most important figures in twentieth century wilderness management, including the eminent zoologist A. Starker Leopold, who had produced a landmark conservationist document in the 1950s, and all-American twin researchers John and Frank Craighead, who ran groundbreaking bear studies at Yellowstone. Their testimony would help decide whether the government owed the Walker family restitution for Harry's death, but it would also illuminate decades of patchwork efforts to preserve an idea of nature that had never existed in the first place.

In this remarkable excavation of American environmental history, nature writer and former park ranger Jordan Fisher Smith uses Harry Walker's story to tell the larger narrative of the futile, sometimes fatal, attempts to remake wilderness in the name of preserving it. Tracing a course from the founding of the national parks through the tangled twentieth-century growth of the conservationist movement, Smith gives the lie to the portrayal of national parks as Edenic wonderlands unspoiled until the arrival of Europeans, and shows how virtually every attempt to manage nature in the parks has only created cascading effects that require even more management. Moving across time and between Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Glacier national parks, Engineering Eden shows how efforts at wilderness management have always been undone by one fundamental problem--that the idea of what is "wild" dissolves as soon as we begin to examine it, leaving us with little framework to say what wilderness should look like and which human interventions are acceptable in trying to preserve it.

In the tradition of John McPhee's The Control of Nature and Alan Burdick's Out of Eden, Jordan Fisher Smith has produced a powerful work of popular science and environmental history, grappling with critical issues that we have even now yet to resolve. 

Highlighted Review: 

on September 7, 2016
Format: Hardcover|Verified Purchase

Jordan Fisher Smith has written a magnificent book. Obviously, the hook here is the encounter between a grizzly and a human, with an unfortunate but predictable outcome. Mr. Smith, however, takes the reader behind the curtain into the inner workings of the National Park Service to discover the back-stories that created the conditions for this tragedy and many others. These include the wrangling over grizzly bear management policies between scientists and the Park Service, and between respected scientists themselves. 
The coverage of the history of the Park Movement, the evolution of scientific thought, and the application of science to real-life management decisions all add value to this book. Most intriguing and thought-provoking is the analysis of the biggest argument in park resource management – whether to let “nature” take its course, or whether park professionals should intervene to help create and sustain desired conditions in parks. Mr. Smith spent innumerable hours with victims, their families, scientists, and park managers to create this meticulously-researched and splendid work.

Bramkamp: Writing is Important, but not THAT Important!

Catharine Bramkamp

Guest Post: Start your writers' conference learning now with a series of guest blog posts from some of the conference faculty. This guest post comes from Joyce Wycoff, conference program guide, author of a young adult fantasy novella, Sarana’s Gift and a specialty journal, Gratitude Miracles, the 5-minute journal that could change everything!

Guest Post: Start your writers' conference learning now with a series of guest blog posts from some of the conference faculty. This guest post comes from Catharine Bramkamp, author of 15 books, co-producer of Newbie Writers Podcast that focuses on newer writers and their concerns, dynamic writing coach and Chief Storytelling Officer for Winesecrets.

Writing a book is important. But, before you get all puffed up, so is knitting.  

Writing is an art.  Writing is also a hobby.  My friend Myrna  knits beautiful socks as holiday gifts to family.    My friend Terry cooks amazing meals and shares them with lucky me. My mother makes greeting cards. My sister in law creates an elaborate Halloween scene for the local trick or treaters. A number of my friends travel and happily share their experiences with me so my trip will be even better.

What do I do?  I write.

Sometimes I share, but more often than not, I don’t.  Because unlike socks, writing isn’t a really welcome holiday gift.  Wine is better.  Bourbon is much better.

I write because it’s important to me, to my health and well-being.  Writing is my way of organizing the world.  It can be yours too. I officially give you permission to write for love.  Write because describing the sky makes it bluer.  Write because detailing the grass makes it softer.  Write because it feeds you like twice baked potatoes.

Why is it important to write?  Because you are making sense of the world, and if you do a good job, you’ll help others see what you see, and make some sense themselves.

To learn more.
Visit us on iTunes  - Newbie Writers Podcast
Check out our upcoming book Don’t Write Like We Talk that will be published eventually.  All you need to do is wait . . . like us.
Subscribe to the blog on
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Or Instagram -  #CatharineBramkampWriter
Or Pinterest -  Catharine Bramkamp
The theme is, Catharine Bramkamp, thank god there is only one of me.

 We love your comments! (Hint! Hint!)

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Speaker: Iven Lourie

Iven Lourie Link
Iven Lourie: Poet, editor, teacher.

Iven and the The Poets Quartet  will perform an excerpt from their recent program "Poetry by Women Only!"--including poems by Mary Oliver, Muriel Rukeyser, Lenore Kandel, Claribel Alegria, Diane di Prima, Cheryl Savageau (and more if they fit the time alotted...). 

The poems are scored for one, two, three, or four voices with accompaniment on Native American flute and percussion by Howie Deutsch.

Review Snippet on Iven's Poetry: Reading these poems is the next best thing to being there. (Mykonos)

Iven has been the editor of non-fiction books including the Consciousness Classics series, including authors E.J. Gold, Dr. John C. Lilly (deceased), Robert S. de Ropp (deceased), Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Mark Olsen, and others. 

He worked as Poetry Editor at Chicago Review in the 1960s, and he has pursued editing, writing, and performance art since. He participated in demonstrations and readings against the Vietnam War during the '60s and '70s. After completing his MFA at U. of Arizona (1978), where he studied with poets Richard Shelton and Peter Wild, he moved to Northern California where he works as Editor for Gateways Books and Artemis Books, teaches composition and literature at Sierra Community College, and leads the Café Writers critique group. He plays guitar and fiddle for fun, and audiences agree that his music shows more sincerity and heart than skill or talent.

The Poets Quartet
The Poets Quartet

In addition to Iven Lourie:

Beverly Korenwaser performed Alice in a Bollywood production of the Adventures of Alice in Wonderland at age 13. She has followed her curiosity ever since. While working at the USC  School of Cinema-TV (Los Angeles), she became Editor of  the film school's Newspaper for faculty, students and staff. In 1995, she opened the Norris Fine Art Guerilla Gallery. There she shepherded art and theatre productions, and initiated open mike readings for local poets. Her poetry has been published in the Cafe Writers Anthology and by Six Ft. Swells. She was a featured reader at the Women Writers Salon and the Nevada County Poetry Series. She is one of the judges of Poetry Out Loud!, the Nevada Union High Recitation Competition, a program sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2013, she joined Iven Lourie to start The Poets Quartet, a performance project which has performed at Diego’s, 3 Forks Restaurant, Clock Tower Records, Broad St. Bistro, and the literary series of the Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Myra Traugot grew up as an army dependent world-traveler. She has been writing poetry her entire life as well as playing folk guitar and singing, meanwhile studying linguistics, Scottish history, and spirituality. She has read her poetry for years for Nevada County Poetry 
Series events, published a chapbook titled Some Poems, helped create the Poets Quartet, and is featured as a performer at the annual KVMR Celtic Festival. A pioneer of the vegetarian nutrition and homebirth movements, Myra is the mother of five children and grandmother of five (and counting).

Howie Deutsch has been living and working in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains for the last forty years, writing, composing, singing, and performing songs in the Mother Lode country. Beginning in the mid 1990s, he began collaborating with local poets and spoken-word performers in Nevada County, providing musical adornment on Native American flutes, harmonica, and percussion. Becoming part of the Poets Quartet is the latest evolution of that work. description.

Culled from the author's journal during a six-month visit to Mykonos in 1972, the first sequence of poems in this collection express enthusiasm and sheer delight with the Greek landscape and people, yet occasionally refer to the rule of the military junta at that time.

The second set of verses, written more than 20 years later, marks Lourie's return to a liberated Greece and reflects more literary irony, refined appreciation for the island's inner life, and continuing admiration melded with a touch of mystic beauty. A multifaceted poetic tour of Greece and the Aegean islands, this gathering is completed by watercolor miniatures created by the author.

Click here to order

Highlighted Review:

on August 19, 2014
Format: Paperback

For anyone who has visited the lovely island of Mykonos, this book of poetry will resonate. If you haven't visited, reading Iven Lourie's poems will have you packing your bags. "The mind reduces travel to poem," he writes. Reading these poems is the next best thing to being there.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Speaker: Judie Rae

Judie Rae Website
Judie Rae: Author of four books for young people, including a Nancy Drew Mystery.  She also authored a college thematic reader, Rites of Passage and a poetry chapbook “The Weight of Roses, ”published by Finishing Line Press. 

Conference Workshop:  Build Your Author Platform and Market Articles, Essays and Poetry. Session, 2, 1:10 - 2:10

Lunchtime Author Round table, 12:00 - 1:00.

Workshop Description: 
Learn how to build your author platform and how to market your articles, essays and poetry.

After twenty-seven years of teaching college English, Judie now concentrates on writing articles and essays primarily related to life in the Sierra foothills, where, when she’s not writing or gardening, she enjoys hiking the many trails around Nevada County.

Highlighted Review:
on October 1, 2014

When I finished The Weight of Roses, my heart was full, not with sadness but with the absorbing depth of the author's truth. The open heart and clear thoughts that Judie Rae reveals in her poems profoundly touched me.

It’s a first-rate thing Rae has done, drawing up the exact words for times and places, people and animals and other growing things that have changed her, putting them on the page in poems and collecting those in a book that has the gravitas and the flecks of humor that will move those lucky enough read The Weight of Roses.

As I was appreciating the poems, I thought of May Sarton. It is Rae's telling of a late middle-age life and of the wisdom of it, that brought Sarton to mind.

I’m glad I read the poems from the first to the last. The cumulative effect was a moving stillness that pooled deep in me.

Poems that I read more than once “Encounter at Daybreak” (I’ve looked a few does in the eye and seen wonder, too), “Undercurrents,” “Either/Or,” “The Red Couch,” “Taking Back the Moon,” (Haven’t we always known she’s a woman!, but how well Rae puts it), “My Body, the Tourist,” (Indeedy do), and “Bus Stop,” were especially compelling today, which is not to say that others won’t be enticing tomorrow. Although I have limited sitzfleish, a lovely Yiddish word that translates as patience that can endure sitting, I’m keeping The Weight of Roses close, so I can dip in whenever I want.


Sunday, December 11, 2016

Congratulations Jordan Fisher Smith reports:

Nature writer Jordan Fisher Smith, whose parents live in Ashland and whose mother is environmental activist Dot Fisher-Smith, has been long-listed for the 2017 PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award. His book "Engineering Eden: The True Story of a Violent Death, a Trial, and the Fight Over Controlling Nature" (Crown, 384 pages, $28) is one of 10 titles on the long list. The award is worth $10,000.

Sierra Writers' Conference is delighted to have Jordan as one of the presenters at our 2nd annual conference. He will also be the emcee for the program and one of the professional critique leaders at the Critique Fest on Friday. See more about Jordan and his workshop here.

Jordan is one of the great reasons to attend this amazing event. Register by 12/31/2016 for the early bird special.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Volmer: License to Write: Part III Your License to Write

Guest Post: Start your writers' conference learning now with a series of guest blog posts from some of the conference faculty. This guest post comes from Mary Volmer, basketball player turned historical novelist and teacher at Saint Mary’s College (CA). Author of Crown of Dust and Reliance, Illinois.

      Click here to see the last post I wrote about the importance of mastering the rules of the craft, and finding space and time to work. Today we’ll talk about getting it wrong, and issue your License to Write!

You Are Going to Get it Wrong

Every year at least one student comes to me despairing because her story, or essay, or poem, won’t do what she intended. Don’t despair! Your first conception will evolve. Your plan will change. You are not entirely in control of your own material, and thank goodness, because what we intend in the first flush of inspiration is rarely as interesting or as original as what emerges unconsciously, with labor, over time. Feel free to outline and story board—I love to outline—so long as you understand your job is not to control, but to serve the story as it emerges, and to shape it. 

And yes, you will get it wrong.  

In an essay called “Shitty First Drafts,” Anne Lamott writes: “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something -- anything -- down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft -- you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft -- you fix it up.” 

Says coaching legend John Wooden: "If you're not making mistakes, then you're not doing anything. I'm positive that a doer makes mistakes." 

“We learn by doing,” says Aristotle, “Men become builders by building houses and harpists by playing the harp.” 

Writers become writers by writing, by writing poorly, by re-visioning and rewriting. 

You will get it wrong. Getting it wrong is the first step—the most important step—toward getting it right. Don’t despair over those dead ends and discarded pages. Words are the world’s most renewable resource! You cannot waste words. 

Think of those discarded pages, all those hours of work, all those wrong turns as compost. That smelly heap of banana peels, pizza crusts, egg shells are what remains of material that nourished you. It is the soil out of which your book will grow. Rejoice in that.  

License to Write

Your vision will change. You get it wrong again and again, before you get it right. The doubt you feel when you’re stuck, when you’re dejected is natural and as necessary as the faith you’ll need to keep going.

If you’ll indulge me one more athletic analogy: novel writing is an endurance sport, a marathon. Think of your faith and doubt as equipment you need to compete. Think of them as running shoes: right shoe faith; left shoe doubt. Doubt keeps you honest, faith keep you going.

Keep going. Remind yourself why you write—why you are writing this book. And if you need written permission to pursue this mad obsession, click on this link and print the document. This my friends, my fellow writers, is a license to write. It is your license to write. 

Now, pay attention because this is important. There are two matching copies of the same document, one atop the other. The first line on the top copy should be signed by someone else. It can be someone in this room. It can be a stranger, or your husband, wife, daughter, or son. Bring it to the conference. I’ll be happy to sign it.

It will read something like this: 

I, __Mary Volmer__, hereby give _(your name)_ permission to write. This permission is not contingent upon publication of a novel, story, play, screenplay, chapbook, biography or any equivalent work attempted, nor is it contingent upon achieving perfection. It is an unqualified license to write.
Rights granted shall include but not be limited to: the right to make the time necessary to practice your craft; the right to fail and try again, and again, and again...; the right to enjoy small gorgeous moments of insight; the right to doubt your work; the right to rest, retreat, and listen to the voice of wisdom seated in your soul; the right to surrender your intentions and start over; the right to read deeply, obsessively, and gratefully the works of writers who have come before you; the right to quit if said activities do not bring fulfillment and some measure of pleasure.  

The second copy is different. With this copy you will give yourself permission. 

I, _______________________________, hereby give ______________________________ permission to write. This permission is not contingent upon publication of a novel, story, play, screenplay, chapbook, biography or any equivalent work attempted, nor is it contingent upon achieving perfection. It is an unqualified license to write.

Rights granted shall include but not be limited to: the right to make the time necessary to practice your craft; the right to fail and try again, and again, and again...; the right to enjoy small gorgeous moments of insight; the right to doubt your work; the right to rest, retreat, and listen to the voice of wisdom seated in your soul; the right to surrender your intentions and start over; the right to read deeply, obsessively, and gratefully the works of writers who have come before you; the right to quit if said activities do not bring some measure of pleasure. 

Frame the sucker.
Hang it above your writing desk. Put in your purse, your notebook, your backpack. Take it out when you need it. And please notice the last, and perhaps the most important line in the license. Freedom to quit. Freedom to walk away and find fulfilment in other pursuits. 

There is suffering in art. There is failure. The practice itself must sustain you: the daily effort and inspiration. Because small, solitary, contemplative pleasures are the true rewards of the writing life. Thank you. I wish you success however you define that word.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Speaker: Dmitiri Keriotis

Dimitri Keriotis Website
Dimitri Keriotis:  Fiction writer; writing instructor.

Review snippet: "Keriotis should be standard reading for book clubs, for schools, and for anyone who wants to know themselves a little better."

Conference Workshop: Finding Your Arc, Session 3, 2:30 - 3:30: 

Lunchtime Author Round table, 12:00 - 1:00

Workshop Description:

A story can’t be a story without a narrative arc, yet sometimes our fiction lacks this crucial element or contains a narrative arc that is flimsy. In this interactive session, writers will examine and discuss a selection’s narrative arc and then turn their investigative eye on their own writing. Participants are encouraged to come with a working draft and can expect to be busy.
Dimitri Keriotis’s debut collection of short stories, The Quiet Time, was released by SFA Press. His stories have appeared in Beloit Fiction Journal, Georgetown Review, Evening Street Review, Flyway, BorderSenses, and elsewhere. Raised in Northern California, he was educated at UC Santa Cruz, University of Nevada, Reno, CSU Chico, and CSU Stanislaus and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zaire and Bolivia. Keriotis is a college counselor and teaches English at Modesto Junior College. He also teaches creative writing at San Francisco State’s Sierra Field Campus. He and his family live in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

Click here to order. description:

In the same vein as Paul Theroux and Robert Olen Butler, some of these stories take place in foreign countries—Zaire (Congo) and Greece—and center on interactions between a host nation and an American visitor. Others are set in the US in the modes of Alice Munro and Tobias Wolff, focusing on human relationships.

Each story reveals a main character’s moral center in the face of unexpected events, some of which seem trivial, others vital.

Highlighted Review:

on May 20, 2015
Format: Paperback|Verified Purchase

The Quiet Time by Demitri Keriotis
Review by Marlon L. Fick

The Quiet Time is a literary work of eleven short stories, all of which are tied to each other through profound empathy, understanding of the human condition, and tenderness. In his astounding debut, Keriotis has achieved, undoubtedly through great struggle, a simplicity: That is, the stories are so seamless and so smooth that they achieve that rare quality of beauty which aspires to music. His touch is ever so light that his stories recall a level of talent equal to Steinbeck and Flannery O’Conner. The psychologies of his characters are multi-layered and so well articulated that he conveys silence—“the quiet time” that occupies the spaces that are left for his reader. He never tells. He shows.

As a writer, I confess to jealousy. I want his sensitivity and perception. I want his sense of our all too human limitations, our obsessions, our worries and our losses. His stories are set in California, West Africa, Greece--settings that are as equally realized as his characters. Having lived in West Africa, I was amazed by Keriotis’ eye for detail, right down to cultural mannerisms. And, despite the wide variety of characters and places, his themes achieve the universal, from conflicts arising from cultural and class identity to more internal or existential problems.

Keriotis should be standard reading for book clubs, for schools, and for anyone who wants to know themselves a little better.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Bramkamp: Why Do We Bother Writing?

Catharine Bramkamp

Guest Post: Start your writers' conference learning now with a series of guest blog posts from some of the conference faculty. This guest post comes from Joyce Wycoff, conference program guide, author of a young adult fantasy novella, Sarana’s Gift and a specialty journal, Gratitude Miracles, the 5-minute journal that could change everything!

Guest Post: Start your writers' conference learning now with a series of guest blog posts from some of the conference faculty. This guest post comes from Catharine Bramkamp, author of 15 books, co-producer of Newbie Writers Podcast that focuses on newer writers and their concerns, dynamic writing coach and Chief Storytelling Officer for Winesecrets.

Why Do We Bother Writing?

We feed blogs, we write tweets, we compose witty face book posts. Why bother writing a whole book?

Because like Half - Dome, it’s there.

Because a book will sit on your shelf and remind you, every day, that you are a real author. A book is the mute testimony of an Herculean effort that few accomplish.   A book proves something.  To you and to the world at large.

Books come in many irritations, but most would agree that there is nothing like the real thing.  There is power in holding a book in your hand. That’s why you sweat and toil and try to figure out this week's version of the publishing system. (Once you learn about the big publishers, you will run screaming from your computer, cower in a corner, suck your thumb, then realize it’s much easier to publish the damn thing yourself.)

Books are not  lightly cast aside.  Books are important. They wouldn’t be burned if they weren’t.

Kindle books can be erased, but for drama?  Fire. - 451 Fahrenheit for the home game.

We write books because we believe in our words and what we have to say. We bother writing a book because it’s real.

And we know, by reading about it, that being real is  not only the ultimate goal of every  Velveteen Rabbit, it’s ours too.

To learn more.
Visit us on iTunes  - Newbie Writers Podcast
Check out our upcoming book Don’t Write Like We Talk that will be published eventually.  All you need to do is wait . . . like us.
Subscribe to the blog on
Or just follow me on Newbie Writers Group on Facebook
Or Instagram -  #CatharineBramkampWriter
Or Pinterest -  Catharine Bramkamp
The theme is, Catharine Bramkamp, thank god there is only one of me.

We love your comments!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Writers Tips: Deborah Blum

Deborah Blum Website
Monday Writing Tip from Sierra Writers' Conference:

  Deborah Blum: Author of The Poisoner’s Handbook and Ghost Hunters
  1. here are a few things that i’ve learned or that people have told me along the way. i’ve written five books. the first two (monkey wars, sex on the brain) were issue books. the best advice i got when writing an issue book was to write the first chapter LAST.  this isn’t absolute, but it’s in the research and writing of later chapters that you often figure out what your primary points will be and how best to frame them.
  2. the best advice i got in writing narrative non-fiction was to get my hero in trouble and keep him there. this was with my first narrative book, love at goon park. my editor suggested that as the over all arc — how is harry harlow ever going to persuade the scientific community that love matters? — and within that to have him confront an obstacle in every chapter. i’m a little looser with that now, not an obstacle in EVERY chapter, but it’s still a great way to think about structure. for instance, in poisoner’s handbook, every chapter is a poison, so my heroes must confront arsenic in one chapter and thallium in another…
  3. i usually try to have a single sentence that describes the primary message of the book. this turns out to be really useful when your editor asks you for the one sentence the sales force can use to persuade book sellers to buy your book. but, again, it’s also a useful organizing principle. so with monkey wars, the primary sentence (not brilliant for sales, but still) was “animal research is really about us.” number one species on the planet, can do whatever we want to other species. and i used that to frame every chapter around a decision that a researcher was making in his use of non-human primates, from brain surgeries to testing on endangered species.
  4. i let my first draft suck. kind of the anne lamott advice on “shitty first drafts.” to me my first draft is just an attempt to start unfolding the flow and logic of the story. if i get stuck, i just put xxx in the draft (for figure this out later.) with one of my books (sex on the brain) i did this so often that i had literal nightmares about it, that people were coming up to me and asking me if i had adopted an avant garde writing style.
  5. i’m obsessive about the research. i organize and cross-list and file from the very beginning. i make notes of key points, issues, and themes. the amount of research one does for a proposal is very different from the amount of research one does for a whole book. so i keep track of all these key moments in a way that lets me recognize patterns that i didn’t see earlier. and also so that when i’m later actually writing, i know where to find everything. writers waste a lot of time looking for that study that they filed, well, somewhere.
  6. i recognize that today’s book author isn’t done even after the manuscript is accepted. publishers expect us to be part of the marketing of the book and the sooner that starts the better. i used to tell people that i wanted to be the j.d. salinger of science writing and just stay home and let the royalties wash over me. but that’s mostly in the moments when i’m just overwhelmed. the new public version of a science writer is actually pretty fascinating.

Steve Silberman's collection of writing tips:

Steve Silberman Website
When Steve Silberman started working on his book NeuroTribes, The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, he decided to “tap into the wisdom of the hive mind.” Fortunately he had a great hive to tap and he shared a long article with brief tips on writing a book from 22 authors.
It’s really too much to read all at once so we will be posting each author’s advice separately so that you can savor each tidbit. (You can always click on the link at the end of the previous paragraph to get the whole feast.)

Now, go forth and write!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Speaker: Rachel Howard

Rachel Howard website
Rachel Howard: Memoirist, fiction writer, writing coach and founder of YubaLit which brings remarkable writers and readers together to celebrate the written word in the Sierra foothills of Grass Valley/Nevada City.

Author Statement: I think in all my endeavors, I’m fascinated by faith in art, and in what happens when people are able–or forced–to shed their social status and find unexpected freedom.

Workshop: How to Offer (and Receive) Truly Helpful Feedback, Session  1, 10:50 - 11:50

Lunchtime Author Round table, 12:00 - 1:00

Workshop Description:  Usually the members of writers' critique groups or workshops really do want to help each other--but they get stuck reading for line-level "fixes" or pronouncing personal judgments.

The result is frustrating for everyone: a pile of superficial, contradictory advice.  How can you offer deeper feedback to others--and how can you create an atmosphere for people to offer deeper feedback to you?  Over ten years of teaching workshops, I've developed a method that allows writers to pause, reflect, and explore what a work-in-progress is really "about," letting that guide discussion of how the writing might reach its fullest manifestation.  In our session, I'll model this response method for you by workshopping pieces by session attendees.

I'll also offer general advice for building a mutually sustaining writers group, and make time for open Q and A.


Please bring a sample of your writing (limit 500 words) and read Eileen Pollock's article What We Talk About When We Talk About Theme.

But it's also OK if you hndaven't.

More from Rachel:

I write memoir, fiction, personal essays, and dance criticism. My book The Lost Night, a memoir about the emotional aftermath of my father’s unsolved murder, received a lot of nice reviews, including this one that meant a great deal to me in the New York Times. I am currently writing a spiritual memoir about how singing at The Alley, a piano bar in Oakland, changed my life.

My fiction and nonfiction has appeared in Gulf Coast, ZYZZYVA, Waxwing (nominated for a Pushcart Prize), OZY, Canteen, Berfrois, the Arroyo Literary Review, and elsewhere. My journalism and dance writing has appeared in The New Yorker Online, the New York Times and the Hudson Review, among other publications.

I also love to write about the craft of writing, as in this piece for the New York Times’ “Draft” series, and this appreciation of Jean Rhys at Fiction Writers Review.

I wrote about dance for the San Francisco Chronicle for more than 15 years, serving as chief Dance Correspondent for six of those. A portfolio of my journalism work is here.

I live in the Sierra foothills these days, but have remained a member of the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, a workspace co-op. I teach writing at the Grotto and frequently at Stanford Continuing Studies. After receiving an MFA in fiction from Warren Wilson College, I served as Warren Wilson’s Joan Beebe Teaching Fellow, and then Interim Director of Undergraduate Creative Writing. I served as Visiting Writer in the MFA Program at Saint Mary’s College of California for the fall of 2015. I run a bi-monthly reading series called Yuba Lit. description. 

A deeply moving story of one woman’s search for truth and meaning in the aftermath of her father's unsolved murder.

On the night of June 22, 1986, ten-year-old Rachel Howard woke to a disturbing sight: pools of blood on the hallway carpet and a glimpse of her father clutching his stabbed throat. Stan Howard died minutes later, and his bizarre small-town murder was never solved. Rachel’s father was thirty-two, a laid-back, handsome man who loved the music of Rod Stewart and had no known enemies. Faced with her family’s shock, Rachel decided she would cope the only way she knew how: By keeping silent and trying to pretend the murder had never happened.

Now, seventeen years later and recently engaged, Rachel attempts to uncover for herself what happened that night. Finally reconnecting with her father’s family, she sorts through her relatives’ memories of his death and presses the less-than-helpful detectives. Still bewildered, she seeks the only other two people present at the murder: her former stepmother and stepbrother, neither of whom she has seen since her father’s funeral. The result is a tender portrait of a father and a keen investigation of memory, truth, and how a family moves on from a tragedy for which they may never find answers.

Highlighted Review:

You must check it out!
Comment| 6 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on February 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover

Lost and Found - a past reclaimed

I finished Rachel Howard's "the lost night" at 3 this morning. From the minute I cracked its spine, the pages turned themselves, inviting me to ignore every routine chore of mine: dirty dishes, daily exercise, even meals (though I did manage to go to work and feed the cat).

Masterfully written, the book tells a riveting story of the murder of Rachel's father when she was only 10 years old. How she handled the loss of this beloved man, her protector and playpal, is a glimpse into how children cope with tragedy of this magnitude. The experience retrospectively defined Rachel, her relationship with her family and also with her stepmother Sherry, her father's third wife when he was murdered. Rachel, the product of divorce, was spending a few summer weeks at her father's home during this time. She was witness to his last waking minutes and remembered details that would replay themselves with increasing vividness as time went by.

But memory is elusive...and selective. The author comes to realize that her memories were circumscribed by the limited frame-of-reference of a young life.

What I found so compelling here is the child's perspective. I have read (and probably own!) just about every true-crime/courtroom/forensic book that exists, yet I never read such an account from a 10-year-old point-of-view. Rachel illustrates the sometimes graphic, sometimes muted terror-of-the-night children of murdered parents are heir to, their wispy and unexpressed--indeed unconscious--suspicion of significant-others, and their necessary dependencies on adults who, often not comprehending the nuances involved, believe that by trotting the kid to therapy, they absolve themselves of the pain of revisiting the circumstances themselves. In Rachel's case, her father's family remained largely silent with her about that night. They may have felt that openly speaking about the murder with someone so young would somehow legitimize it for her. In fact, their passivity had the opposite, and quite damaging, effect on a young mind hungry for assurance and validation.

Palpable throughout Rachel's memoir is its raw honesty. The writing is often brutally introspective, devoid of the self-pity and lachrymose language which the author might easily --and justifiably-have indulged. She is seeking information and answers, and by the last page, I realize she has found those things, and some peace along the way.